We’ve identified many of the social challenges associated with gender inequality across science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine disciplines, including unconscious bias (e.g. the bias that leads many to associate ‘scientist’ with ‘man’) and a lack of female role models and recognition for women achieving great things in STEMM.
Together, these factors contribute to the lack of girls choosing STEMM subjects at school, studying STEMM degrees and consequently entering the workforce. But on the other side of the same coin is those women already in STEMM careers, who face organisational challenges that hinder their ability to climb the ladder and contribute to many of them leaving the field. In Australia, women make up 48% of junior research positions, but only 21.2% of senior research positions. Why does the number drop so significantly as we look higher up the ranks?
There are certain barriers that exist when an industry is “male-dominated”. It becomes a hard and rigid process for many women to advance their careers when they look around and find they are the only woman in the room, or when they grapple with the perception they can have a career or a family, not both.
A report by Professionals Australia published earlier this year found that the primary barriers to women already in STEMM progressing their careers were:
- Balancing work/life responsibilities – this tends to slow down the rate at which women can progress in their careers in many institutions within the STEMM workforce
- Workplace culture – the direct or indirect practices and policies within a workplace that excluded or disadvantaged women (this includes sexist comments, the notion of a ‘boys club’, and the tendency to not take women as seriously as men)
- A lack of access to senior roles for women – many women who have returned from parental leave had been demoted to accommodate for their responsibilities as a parent
This is not a conclusive list. Other factors include feelings of isolation as a woman in the workplace, limited access to networks, and minimal career support. In her blog, Dr. Julie Wheway noted that the biggest thing she felt she was missing while working in the research sector was mentorship from other female senior scientists.
It’s important for anyone, in any job, in any industry to feel supported in their work and have access to people and resources that will help them succeed. That goes for STEMM too. Women need support from women, and men – they need mentors, they need flexibility, they need choice.
Are you in a woman in STEMM who has faced these organisational challenges? We’d love to hear your story and extend the dialogue about what needs to be done on a personal and organisational level to overcome these hurdles. Comment below or contact us here